Army Futures Command wants problems for soldiers to be solved at Texas university campuses

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A new $130 million combat development complex in at Texas A&M’s campus in Bryan will break ground Oct. 12

 

When leaders of the U.S. Army announced in July 2018 that Austin would be the home of the first new army command since 1973, they cited the potential to collaborate with local universities as a significant factor leading to the choice of Austin as the home for Army Futures Command.

Just over a year after announcing its creation in Austin, Army Futures Command has grown to what it calls “full operational capacity,” staffing up its operations from an initial group of 12 personnel to 24,000 staff located around the world. As the command has grown, its university partnerships are beginning to take shape.

On Oct. 2 at the Capitol Factory in Austin, Army Futures Commander Gen. John M. Murray, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and John Sharp, chancellor of Texas A&M University System, announced a new $130 million combat development campus set to open in 2021 at the Texas A&M RELLIS campus in Bryan.

The RELLIS campus—named for Texas A&M’s six core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service—opened its first academic building in fall 2018 and in addition to the army facility will eventually include a data center, workforce education complex and Texas A&M Transportation Institute headquarters.

Sharp said the combat development campus will break ground on Oct. 12. Research priorities, he said, will focus on hypersonics and directed energy.

Hypersonic weapons, according to a September report from the Congressional Research Service, are weapons that fly at speeds at least five times the speed of sound. Directed energy weapons include laser and radio wave technology.

Katherine Banks, dean of the Texas A&M school of engineering, said a kilometer-long tunnel at the new combat development complex will allow the testing to take place.

“It will allow us to not only look at hypersonic conditions, but also directed energy under certain environmental conditions. You can’t do that in the smaller tunnels,” Banks said.

State lawmakers dedicated $50 million during the 86th Legislative Session for the construction of the new facility, and the Texas A&M System board of regents earmarked $80 million for the center.

According to a news release from Texas A&M, the center will also include “laboratories, runways, underground and open-air battlefield and a resilient network of sensors and systems for data collection, analysis and storage.”

UT to research robotics

Meanwhile, the University of Texas is in the process of developing two new facilities in partnership with Army Futures Command. The Anna Hiss Gymnasium, built in 1931 as a women’s gym, will become a robotics research center where, UT said in a May news release, students and faculty members will work alongside Army personnel.

Murray said on Oct. 2 he expects the ribbon cutting at the facility to take place in April 2020, and he hopes the work in robotics can help make soldiers safer when operations are breached.

“There’s certain places on a battlefield I believe we should never, ever, ever send a soldier again, and that would be the most dangerous of places, so what I’ve asked them is to completely automate that operation. There’s all kinds of challenges that go with that,” Murray said.

The other facility on UT’s campus will be located at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin, where UT’s Center for Electromechanics is located. In addition to the study of robotics, Murray said the partnership with UT will focus on power storage and position navigation.

“When GPS goes away, deliberately or accidentally, what’s the signal we can use to provide the precision of navigation and the timing?” Murray said.

Army Futures Command is also working with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where the focus is on artificial intelligence work.

Cornyn said the work at Texas A&M will help the U.S. Army remain the strongest country in the world and deter any enemy threats, echoing former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s phrase of “peace of strength.”

“We want to make sure our men and women in uniform have everything they need,” Cornyn said.

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Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. He graduated in 2011 from Boston University and worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in January of 2018.
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